Muhammara is a Middle Eastern dip that is made with walnuts and roasted red peppers. I love that many Middle Eastern dishes are naturally vegan and this style of cooking has become one of my favorites! The dishes are always so flavorful with many spices and truly are plant-forward.
My first experience with muhammara was at a Lebanese restaurant. It was described as a “walnut dip” and honestly I was not sure it would be anything great. I was wrong! I was totally blown away by the flavors and it was love at first bite. The walnuts have a deep and rich flavor, there’s a little smokiness from the red peppers and Aleppo pepper, a robust sweetness from pomegranate molasses, followed by a bite of garlic at the end. It’s so good, trust me!
I have read that some people use muhammara almost like ketchup as it can go with just about anything. I can see that! This dip is popular throughout the Middle East and it seems that every makes it pretty similarly with some variations here and there. There are few differences but the foundation is the same: walnuts, red pepper, and pomegranate molasses.
How to prononouce muhamarra, which is an arabic word:
it sounds like moo-HA-mara, with a guttural H and a soft, almost rolled R. Say the word quickly. There you have it!
How to Make Muhammara
Like making hummus, muhammara whips up fast in a food processor. The ingredient list is simple, but each item is important in its own way and I do not recommend substitutions. The base of the dip is walnuts and roasted red peppers. If you want to save time, then use jarred roasted red peppers. Otherwise, you can roast red peppers under the broiler in your oven until tender and the skin is blackened. Remove the skins completely and rinse with water.
Another key ingredient is pomegranate molasses. This is a syrup made from the juice of pomegranates and is very popular in Middle Eastern cooking. It definitely gives the muhammara and specific fruity flavor and richness. I found pomegranate molasses at my grocery store – it will be located in the “ethnic” food isles. Otherwise you could purchase it online here.
One of the spices traditionally used is Aleppo pepper, which is a red pepper flake that is named after the Syrian city, Aleppo. It is about half as spicy as the typical chili pepper flakes here in America, but has much more flavor. It is a little bit smoky and it’s flavor really pulls through in the muhammara. It is definitely worth purchasing some because you can also use the pepper in many other ways, much like you would paprika. It was difficult to find in the grocery store. I could only find a very tiny amount at MOM’s Organic Market, so I would recommend stopping by a Middle Eastern grocery store or purchasing online, such as this one. I think you could substitute more paprika plus some ancho chili powder and have a similar flavor.
You also will need breadcrumbs. I make breadcrumbs using 2 slices of Eziekel bread. To do this, first toast the bread to dry it out a bit and let it cool. Then remove the crusts and rip it into a couple of pieces. Put the bread in the food processor and run until it is a medium to fine crumb. Now you can proceed by adding the remaining ingredients!
How to Serve Muhammara
Muhammara is traditionally served in a bowl along with freshly baked pita and can be topped with herbs like mint or parsley. You can also serve your muhammara with vegetable sticks, cucumber slices, raw beet slices – I think any veggie would be good.
Typically, muhammara is included in mezze, which is a selection of smaller places. This is very common in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dining, where the table is filled with lots of smaller dishes to share. I particularly love mezze style as you can try lots of different dishes and flavors. It is very much like family style except that the dishes are smaller and there are more of them. Mezze is perfect for entertaining as well because you can make a variety of dips, salads, pulses, and cooked vegetables and set them all out together. Muhammara is perfect for that. Ok now I’m getting hungry just thinking about it…
Some other ideas for using muhammara are:
- dolloped on top of grilled vegetables like zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, mushrooms, and onions
- on a grain bowl with farro or spelt as the base, steamed veggies, olives, and marinated artichokes
- on top of salad or budda bowl instead of hummus
- spread inside a pita sandwich stuffed with sprouts, cucumber, tomato, and tofu
A Word About Bread
As far as bread and pita for serving go, I personally like to use the Ezekiel sprouted grains pita, which you can find in the freezer section, or a whole wheat pita. Disclaimer about breads: first of all bread is not your enemy, carbs are not your enemy. I’m not going to go into why carbs are not your enemy right now, definitely a subject for a different day! However bleached white bread and preservative-laden bread is definitely your enemy. It is very important to understand the difference in bread quality as it is fundamental. Always, always be sure to read the ingredients when purchasing breads and pita (in general). There are many preservatives added to make breads last a long time on the shelf without going moldy as well as other stuff like high fructose corn syrup, caramel color to make the bread look darker as if it were whole grain (crazy I know), bleaching agents to make white bread, and others. The reality is that these chemicals are bad for us, plain and simple.
The Ezekiel breads and pita are frozen, which eliminates the need for preservatives. Of course if you buy bread from a local bakery that makes a whole grain bread or pita from scratch, that is also great. I just don’t always have that available, so I think the frozen bread is the next best thing. My recommendation is always be aware of what you are buying, as with everything. There are many marketing strategies that falsely make products sound healthy using words like “natural” or “wholesome”. These words are meaningless and have no regulation. The ingredient list however, that never lies. Another example of a potential trap are freshly baked breads from the grocery store. You may think that these are going to have only a few simple ingredients, as they are baked right there in the store. Wrong. If you check the ingredient label, you will be surprised that they still contain preservatives and other bad ingredients. Even at higher-end stores like Wegmans, this is true. So always check, never assume! (You know that saying about assuming…) Here’s an article that outlines some of the ingredients added to commercial breads that maybe you will want to avoid now that you are aware!
So now that you know all about muhammara and all of it’s versatile deliciousness, you can expand your dip repertoire and whip up some of this plant-based goodness! And I think you are going to love it.
Makes about 3 cups
Muhammara is a Middle Eastern walnut and red pepper dip that is full of robust flavor and is the perfect addition to mezze style meal. It is traditionally served with pita bread for dipping. You can also serve with vegetable sticks or as a condiment that will go with just about anything. This recipe is formulated from very traditional recipes.
Author: Leah Romay
- 3 large red bell peppers, roasted, skins removed (or jarred roasted peppers)
- 2 slices of Ezekiel bread or other whole grain bread (to equal 1/2 c breadcrumbs)
- 1 cup raw walnuts
- 2 cloves garlic, grated or pressed
- 3 T extra virgin olive oil
- 2 T pomegranate molasses
- 2 tsp Aleppo pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cumin (optional)
- 1 T lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp salt, or season to taste
- Parsley or mint leaves, crushed walnuts, extra olive oil or pomegranate molasses, for garish
- If using jarred peppers, skip to step 3.
- Turn on the broiler. Place the whole bell peppers on a baking tray under the broiler and cook for about 15 minutes, turning once the peppers become charred to evenly cook them. Once the entire skin of the peppers are charred and the flesh is tender, they are done. Allow to cool.
- Once the peppers are cooled to handle, remove the skins and rinse with water. Remove the stems and seeds.
- Toast the 2 slices of bread well with the broiler or in a toaster. Allow to cool. Remove the crusts. Rip the bread into chunks and place in the food processor. Run the processor until the bread is a medium sized crumb.
- Add all remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth, but still has a chunky texture. Traditionally, muhammara is not completely smooth.
- Serve in a bowl and top with fresh parsley or mint, crushed walnuts, a drizzle of olive oil or pomegranate molasses, if desired.
- Muhammara will last several days in the refrigerator.
- See blog post above for other serving ideas and tips about bread and pita.
- Substitutions of the pomegranate molasses and Aleppo pepper will not yield the same flavor profile, but ancho chili + paprika may be similar to the Aleppo.
- You can usually find pomegranate molasses in the ethnic section of the grocery store, or at a Middle Eastern market or online
- Buy Aleppo pepper online, or some grocery stores with more specialty items may have it.
- If using jarred or store bought roasted peppers, they are usually packed whole in the jar. Purchase them this way so you know how many you are using. Also, some olive bars at grocery stores have roasted red peppers there, so you may be able to purchase exactly 3 peppers! Ideally purchase peppers packed in water, not oil.